Creating play environments for children with special needs.Educators are gradually acknowledging the appropriateness of children's play as a natural avenue for learning, social experiences and emotional enrichment enrichment Food industry The addition of vitamins or minerals to a food–eg, wheat, which may have been lost during processing. See White flour; Cf Whole grains. (Dempsey & Frost, 1993). They are increasingly aware of play's benefits (Elkind, 1988) due to a growing body of literature related to the design of play environments (Frost, 1992; Olds, 1989). Unfortunately, educators remain uninformed about one key aspect of play environment design--the safe inclusion of children with special needs.
In order to include all children, we must move quickly to determine how caregivers and educators can increase safety in play environments. We must also establish who is responsible for monitoring and ensuring the safety of play environments in integrated settings. To ignore these questions could be dangerous.
Consider an incident that recently occurred in an elementary school elementary school: see school. with a population including children with special needs. At the request of school personnel, the Parent Teacher Association purchased a swing designed for children with physical challenges. This swing was installed alongside regular swings on the A-frame already in use on the playground. A major safety problem immediately became apparent. Pea gravel, an acceptable resilient See resiliency. material for cushioning falls under most circumstances, did not provide sure footing for teachers lifting children from wheelchairs to the special swing. The PTA PTA or parent-teacher association: see parent education. discovered that the solution to this problem was expensive. A synthetic, resilient surface could be installed, but it would have to be applied to a base of concrete or asphalt asphalt (ăs`fôlt, –fălt), brownish-black substance used commonly in road making, roofing, and waterproofing. Chemically, it is a natural mixture of hydrocarbons. . The estimated cost of the entire project was over $2,000. At their next meeting, the PTA members learned that the school district would not assume the expenditure, and that another donation of PTA funds was the only alternative. After a lengthy debate, the PTA narrowly passed a motion in favor of the donation.
It is disturbing, however, that a crucial decision regarding the safe inclusion of children with special needs on public school playgrounds was made at a poorly attended PTA meeting by ill-informed, albeit well-intentioned, parents. This example also raises serious questions about whether implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. civil-rights law, enacted 1990, that forbids discrimination of various sorts against persons with physical or mental handicaps. (ADA Ada, city, United States
Ada (ā`ə), city (1990 pop. 15,820), seat of Pontotoc co., S central Okla.; inc. 1904. It is a large cattle market and the center of a rich oil and ranch area. ) can achieve the safe inclusion of children with disabilities in play environments. The authors will examine the implications of ADA and the role of developmentally appropriate practice Developmentally appropriate practice (or DAP) is a perspective within early childhood education whereby a teacher or child caregiver nurtures a child's social/emotional, physical, and cognitive development by basing all practices and decisions on (1) theories of child development, (2) (Bredekamp, 1987).
To be truly inclusive, a play environment must address three fundamental components: access, activity and variability. Many supposedly inclusive play environments provide access, but fall short in the provision of either activity or variability. Access refers to a person's ability to physically enter a desired location. This is most often discussed in terms of door widths, ramps and the absence or presence of barriers. Activity is a person's ability to take an active part in an experience once access is provided. It is not enough to get close to one's playmates The name "Playmates" may refer to:
A Mandate for Inclusion
ADA requires that reasonable steps be taken to ensure that all citizens have the same opportunities for education, recreation and job fulfillment ful·fill also ful·fil
tr.v. ful·filled, ful·fill·ing, ful·fills also ful·fils
1. To bring into actuality; effect: fulfilled their promises.
2. . The law does not, however, prescribe pre·scribe
To give directions, either orally or in writing, for the preparation and administration of a remedy to be used in the treatment of a disease. the specific details of these "reasonable steps." In essence, we must provide "like-kind" experiences to all citizens. Therefore, in play environments, all children should have access to a variety of play experiences found in a particular environment. For example, if construction play is available, then all children must be able to participate. Making play environments inclusive means that we must examine the types of experiences available to the majority of children and then ensure that those experiences are also available to children with special needs.
But which "special needs" must be addressed? Should an environment address every conceivable con·ceive
v. con·ceived, con·ceiv·ing, con·ceives
1. To become pregnant with (offspring).
2. disabling dis·a·ble
tr.v. dis·a·bled, dis·a·bling, dis·a·bles
1. To deprive of capability or effectiveness, especially to impair the physical abilities of.
2. Law To render legally disqualified. condition? The ADA appears, once again, to be more concerned with intent than with exhausting every possible scenario. All special needs must be addressed as those needs arise. Every child care center or school may not be asked to enroll a child with a visual impairment Visual Impairment Definition
Total blindness is the inability to tell light from dark, or the total inability to see. Visual impairment or low vision is a severe reduction in vision that cannot be corrected with standard glasses or contact lenses and , but if this scenario should arise, the school must be prepared to serve that child's need for access, activity and variability.
The implications of ADA and developmentally appropriate practice suggest that opportunities for play should be equally available to all children (Bredekamp, 1993). As the legal rights afforded to special needs children under ADA slowly become part of our consciousness, we must be reminded that ensuring the equality of play opportunities is not only mandated, but also vitally important for the learning and development of all children.
Safety, Developmental Appropriateness and Inclusion
Now that we have defined inclusion, we can consider its relationship to two other key elements of play environment design: safety and developmental appropriateness. This relationship can be expressed graphically in the form of a Roman arch. The primary quality, safety, forms the base section of the structure. The vertical supporting blocks, which rest on the foundation of safety, represent a balanced structure of individual and age appropriateness, the two defining characteristics of developmental appropriateness. The capstone represents the environmental design elements ensuring the full inclusion of all children, specifically those children with special needs. The Roman arch suggests that the overall effect functions as a whole, not as separate pieces. The placement of the three components indicates the conditional or directional In one direction. Contrast with omnidirectional. relationships among the components.
A Safe Foundation
Play environments for children must, above all, be safe. To place or invite children into an environment with known hazards is not merely unwise, it is unethical unethical
said of conduct not conforming with professional ethics. . Surveys conducted by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance have shown that American playgrounds (in preschools, child care centers, elementary schools and public parks) are woefully woe·ful also wo·ful
1. Affected by or full of woe; mournful.
2. Causing or involving woe.
3. Deplorably bad or wretched: unsafe. Over 200,000 injuries, many of them preventable, occur on these playgrounds every year. Over 60 percent of these 200,000 injuries are caused by falls to the surfaces surrounding play equipment. Resilient surfaces, such as sand, pea gravel, uniform wood chips or rubber mats, need to be installed and properly maintained. Unfortunately, injuries from falls continue to occur at historically high levels (Bruya & Langendorfer, 1988; Thompson & Bowers Bowers is a surname, and may refer to
Indoor environments must also be evaluated for safe inclusion practices. Enrollment in center-based child care is burgeoning and many public elementary schools have extended the school day and lengthened length·en
tr. & intr.v. length·ened, length·en·ing, length·ens
To make or become longer.
lengthen·er n. the school year. With children spending more time in schools, many critical issues related to safety and inclusion must be addressed.
Developmental Appropriateness for All Children
While safety is the foundation of functional play environments for all children, by itself it does not guarantee an array of creative play opportunities. Environments must support play experiences that are matched to children's developmental levels and are also individually appropriate. In order to implement these principles, play materials must offer a variety of active learning experiences and be within the reach of all children. Each child should be offered many play options, including dramatic play, construction and games involving rules and sensorimotor sensorimotor /sen·so·ri·mo·tor/ (sen?sor-e-mo´ter) both sensory and motor.
Of, relating to, or combining the functions of the sensory and motor activities. manipulation. The range and variety of play activities should enable a child to achieve an individual balance of success and challenge.
Developmental appropriateness is built upon the foundation of a safe environment. Without safety, children will not have the freedom to explore, take risks, create or simply enjoy their play activities. It is important, however, not to promote safety by removing all challenges from the play environment. Safety without developmentally appropriate challenge is counter-productive. By following developmentally appropriate practices, play can have a significant effect on children's development. A safe environment offers all children protection and freedom to have full expression in their play activities.
Achieving Safe Inclusion
The issue of safe inclusion is linked to the convergence of the early childhood and early childhood special education fields as legally mandated. Ongoing philosophical and methodological debates continue as experts in both fields attempt to better define the practices that will yield the most successful results in integrated early childhood settings (Bredekamp, 1993; Carta, Atwater, Schwartz & McConnell, 1993; Carta, Schwartz, Atwater & McConnell, 1991; Johnson & Johnson, 1992; Johnson & Johnson, 1993; McLean & Odom, 1993).
Current efforts to achieve safe inclusion are hampered by many factors inherent in the convergence of these two fields. In addition to the lack of consensus regarding appropriate practices in integrated settings, a lack of research to identify quality indicators in integrated programs impedes progress toward achieving safe inclusion. Although some recent research examines the issue of quality in integrated environments (File & Kontos, 1993), we have no model or instrument specifically designed to determine the appropriateness of these settings. Guidelines guidelines,
n.pl a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks. for developmentally appropriate practice do not specifically address many different aspects of inclusive educational programs. File and Kontos were compelled to use a combination of assessment measures when examining the quality of integrated, early intervention ear·ly intervention
n. Abbr. EI
A process of assessment and therapy provided to children, especially those younger than age 6, to facilitate normal cognitive and emotional development and to prevent developmental disability or delay. settings. Practitioners must rely on a combination of common sense and other sources they believe will offer reasonable information. One such source is the support staff assigned to inclusive programs. Consulting with physical therapists, occupational therapists occupational therapist A person trained to help people manage daily activities of living–dressing, cooking, etc, and other activities that promote recovery and regaining vocational skills Salary $51K + 4% bonus. See ADL. and other specialists may yield valuable information to use in planning for the safety and comfort of special needs children (Eichinger & Woltman, 1993).
While the therapeutic importance of outdoor play for exceptional children has been recognized (Frost, 1992; Frost & Klein, 1979; Keller & Hudson, 1991), few resources exist to guide plans for safe inclusion on playgrounds. An excellent source of information on general playground safety is the Handbook for Public Playground Safety, published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (1990). While this document alerts the practitioner to various safety precautions precautions Infectious disease The constellation of activities intended to minimize exposure to an infectious agent; precautions imply that the isolation of an infected Pt is optional, but not mandatory. , it does not specifically address the adaptations necessary for the safe inclusion of children with disabilities. In his book, Play and Playscapes, Joe L. Frost (1992) emphasizes the importance of providing both safety and access to children with disabling conditions.
A simple way to increase access is to provide a variety of low-cost, loose parts Loose Parts is a single panel comic strip drawn by Dave Blazek since 2001. It is similar in tone to Bizarro, drawn by Dan Piraro, involving theater of the absurd-style themes. that are conducive con·du·cive
Tending to cause or bring about; contributive: working conditions not conducive to productivity. See Synonyms at favorable. to cooperative play for children with various developmental challenges (Esbensen, 1991). Increasing the sensory sensory /sen·so·ry/ (sen´sor-e) pertaining to sensation.
1. Of or relating to the senses or sensation.
2. input of playgrounds (Wortham & Wortham, 1989) can also serve to enhance the inclusion of children with certain disabilities, especially those with sensory deficits, such as visual impairments. It is important to retain an element of challenge (Esbensen, 1991) and to create mobility (Frost, 1992) for exceptional children. In order to plan for safe inclusion on playgrounds, Raschke, Dedrick and Hanus (1991) suggest employing a multidisciplinary mul·ti·dis·ci·pli·nar·y
Of, relating to, or making use of several disciplines at once: a multidisciplinary approach to teaching. team approach to determine needs and establish priorities when developing adaptive playgrounds.
Indoor environments strongly influence the physical and emotional comfort of children. Care and educational programs for children typically involve indoor classroom activities for a significant portion of the day. Therefore, safety should be a prime consideration for programs (Smith, 1982).
To promote full inclusion in classroom, professionals must consider the influence of physical access on the safety, learning and social interactions of all children. The American Public Health Association The American Public Health Association (APHA) is Washington, D.C.-based professional organization for public health professionals in the United States. Founded in 1872 by Dr. Stephen Smith, APHA has more than 30,000 members worldwide. and the American Academy of Pediatrics The American Academy of Pediatrics ("AAP") is an organization of pediatricians, physicians trained to deal with the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents. Its motto is: "Dedicated to the Health of All Children. (1992) suggest that children with special needs require more open floor space for freedom of movement than do typical children. Accessibility must also be considered when arranging play materials on shelves. Height ranges for storage that accommodate children's developmental levels, range of vision and reach are often considered by early childhood professionals. Fully inclusive classrooms, however, should place materials and toys at two specific heights. Storing materials at table level and floor level reduces the need for bending or over-reaching, which can cause children to lose their balance. Floor-level placement of materials facilitates materials access and concomitant concomitant /con·com·i·tant/ (kon-kom´i-tant) accompanying; accessory; joined with another.
concomitant adjective Accompanying, accessory, joined with another social play among peers and diminishes the risk of children falling.
In most cases, children with special needs can be fully integrated into indoor environments with appropriate adaptations in materials, equipment, furnishings furnishings
the extra type or quantity of hair on the head, tail, ears or legs, specified for a particular breed. For example, the feathers in setters, the beard in Bearded collies, the eyebrows in Schnauzers. and room arrangement. Safety considerations require planning, preparation and minimal modifications in daily routines (Aronson, 1991). Most important, early childhood professionals must be considered the primary factor in ensuring all children's health Children's Health Definition
Children's health encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being of children from infancy through adolescence. , safety and well-being as they prudently "coach" all children during indoor play activities (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990). Teachers must focus on individual planning to meet all children's developmental needs while maintaining a consistent, safe and rich learning environment (Wolfgang & Wolfgang, 1992).
Safety Training for Personnel and Peers in Integrated Settings
Safety training for personnel has been considered critical for integrated early education settings (Bruder, 1993; Eichinger & Woltman, 1993; File & Kontos, 1993). The ADA provision that prohibits children with disabling conditions from being denied enrollment in child care and nursery schools nursery school, educational institution for children from two to four years of age. It is distinguishable from a day nursery in that it serves children of both working and nonworking parents, rarely receives public funds, and has as its primary objective to promote serving the public (Surr, 1992) makes safety training more critical than ever. One study involving "ordinary" caregivers found they could be trained to safely and effectively integrate infants with special needs (Ross, 1992). The Connecticut Department of Human Resources The fancy word for "people." The human resources department within an organization, years ago known as the "personnel department," manages the administrative aspects of the employees. , for example, developed a comprehensive safety training system for community-based, integrated child care settings. The project, "Safety Care/Safe Play," trained licensing officials and parents, as well as child care providers (Finn-Stevenson & Stevenson, 1990). This type of training program could help disseminate dis·sem·i·nate
v. dis·sem·i·nat·ed, dis·sem·i·nat·ing, dis·sem·i·nates
1. To scatter widely, as in sowing seed.
2. information on safe inclusion practices in the play environments of community-based child care facilities. Higher education higher education
Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art. could also address safe inclusion by incorporating this training into existing child development and teacher preparation programs (Stayton & Miller, 1993).
As educators discover ways to facilitate friendships and "coach" children during social play activities, these relationships might play a role in promoting safe, nurturing inclusion (Buswell & Schaffner, 1992; Guralnick, 1993; Peterson & McConnell, 1993). It may be possible for peers to help ensure the safety of their playmates who have disabling conditions. Peer modeling of safe play may have the positive effect of teaching and reinforcing the safety-conscious behavior of playmates. Studies show that young children with special needs in integrated preschool settings are sensitive to peer modeling as a positive method of learning (Fox & Hanline, 1993).
Incorporating the suggestions of Hanline (1985), the teacher's role in fostering safety modeling could be two-fold: 1) recognizing and complimenting peers who model safe practices and 2) encouraging children with disabilities to imitate im·i·tate
tr.v. im·i·tat·ed, im·i·tat·ing, im·i·tates
1. To use or follow as a model.
a. the modeled behavior. Supporting the formation of friendships among all children may help to build a "safety net" for those children with disabling conditions. As friendships flourish, children may naturally "watch out" for one another.
In conclusion, four major principles should guide the creation of safe, inclusive play environments. First, educators and caregivers must recognize that the primary attribute of any outdoor or indoor play environment is safety. It is only by ensuring safety that children can truly be free to explore and interact with their environment. Second, play environments must reflect the characteristics of developmentally appropriate practice. Following this principle enables early childhood professionals to provide play options that promote self-selected choices and offer challenges that maximize opportunities for children to experience success. The third principle requires that play environments allow for the full inclusion of children with special needs. Professionals must prepare play environments and support spontaneous play experiences that are equitable, rich in variety and accessible for all children. The fourth principle is drawn from an interplay in·ter·play
Reciprocal action and reaction; interaction.
intr.v. in·ter·played, in·ter·play·ing, in·ter·plays
To act or react on each other; interact. of the three prior principles: safe inclusion of children with special needs requires safety, developmentally appropriate practices and full inclusion to function in unison u·ni·son
a. Identity of pitch; the interval of a perfect prime.
b. The combination of parts at the same pitch or in octaves.
2. . Early childhood professionals must consciously implement these principles as a totality TOTALITY. The whole sum or quantity.
2. In making a tender, it is requisite that the totality of the sum due should be offered, together with the interest and costs. Vide Tender. in order to prepare safe indoor and outdoor play environments that nurture NURTURE. The act of taking care of children and educating them: the right to the nurture of children generally belongs to the father till the child shall arrive at the age of fourteen years, and not longer. Till then, he is guardian by nurture. Co. Litt. 38 b. and support children with special needs.
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Suzanne M. Winter is Assistant Professor, Early Chilhood Edducation, University of Texas at San Antonio The main campus is situated on 600 acres (2.4 km²,) at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Loop 1604 near the northern edge of San Antonio, Texas in Bexar County. The university is also one of the UT System's fastest growing schools, maintaining a 12. . Michael J. Bell is Program Administrator, Early Childhood Programs, Arizona Department of Education, Phoenix. James D. Dempsey is Senoir Vice-President, Grounds for Play, Inc.